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Let’s get political: Olivia Newton-John raises alarm over fracking near Byron Bay

A grassroots movement opposed to coal-seam gas (CSG) mining got a boost of star power on Saturday, when 70s pop singer Olivia Newton-John panned the controversial practice.

The Australian singer, who starred alongside John Travolta in the hit movie-musical Grease, launched a scathing attack on the mining industry after learning several sites near her luxury Byron Bay resort were under threat, The Sunday Telegraph reported.

In an open letter to Australians warning about the health effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, Newton-John says she is “horrified to learn of the extensive plans for coal-seam gas and shale gas exploration in Australia.”

Fracking technology has dramatically increased natural-gas extraction and made it economically viable but a widely-cited study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has raised concerns over the possible pollution of drinking water through methane leaks. The process involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into a well to fracture the rock and release the natural gas.

Newton-John is asking for evidence that coal-seam gas mining does not pollute drinking water, what chemicals are being used in fracking and why companies are exempt from revealing them, the article states.

“While there is a moratorium on fracking in New South Wales, the  industry is set to become a significant contributor to the state’s energy supply, with companies undertaking appraisals in Gunnedah and the Clarence-Moreton basins, home to Newton-John’s Gaia Retreat,” says the newspaper. Apex Energy has been given pemission to drill 15 wells in the area.

ABC North Coast NSW reported on a protest in May where about 2,000 people gathered to etch “No CSG” on Byron Bay’s main beach. A similar protest in Austinmer Beach, north of Wollongong, drew about 1,500 protesters.

The anti-fracking message comes on the heels of a $12 billion friendly takeover bid by BHP Billiton to acquire US gas company Petrohawk Energy, whose business includes hydraulic fracturing.

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association has defended fracking as a safe method of natural gas extraction, but a recent incident in England casts doubt on such claims. The Independent reported in June on two small earthquakes said to be associated with shale gas fracking near the seaside town of Blackpool:

Earthquake experts from the British Geological Survey said that the 1.5 magnitude quake last week was similar to a 2.3 earthquake in April in the same area and that both may be linked to the experimental fracking for shale gas at Preese Hall on the Fylde coast.

Image of Olivia Newton-John is from Wikimedia, by gdcgraphics.